After 56 minutes of basketball, a dozen lead changes and two players on his own team nearly coming to blows on the bench, Wheeler head coach Doug Lipscomb needed just one word to describe his team’s 93-90 win over Shiloh in the second round of the AAAAAA state playoffs, Tuesday night.
“Amazing,” he said. “I need a drink of water.”
The Wildcats (25-5), the No. 1 seed from Region 5-AAAAAA, will now face North Gwinnett (26-3), the No. 1 seed from Region 7-AAAAAA, Thursday in the quarterfinals. North Gwinnett coasted to a 74-43 win over Lambert Tuesday night, in the Bulldogs’ second round contest. But the going would not be nearly as easy for Wheeler.
The Wildcats held what would be their largest lead of the night midway through the first quarter, 18-10, after a three-pointer by guard Avery Patterson. But Shiloh (19-11) cut the deficit to one, 20-19, heading into the second quarter and eventually built its own eight-point lead, 53-45, early in the fourth quarter after two free throws by junior guard Kareem Brewton.
Wheeler kept clawing and senior forward Elijah Staley’s layup tied the game 63-63 with two minutes left in regulation. Both teams had a chance to win it prior to overtime, but sophomore guard Josh Okogie, who led the Generals with 31 points, missed two free throws and Wheeler junior guard Jaylen Brown missed a difficult reverse layup along the baseline with :25 seconds left. Brewton nearly banked home a 70-footer at the buzzer, but the teams went into the first overtime tied at 63.
Wheeler built a 68-64 lead midway through the four-minute overtime period, but Shiloh tied the score at 70 when senior point guard Elliott Strickland knocked down two free throws with :34 seconds left. Wheeler turned the ball over on its next possession and Strickland misfired on a deep jump shot, and the game went into overtime period No. 2.
The tense drama of the moment appeared to get to Brown and Staley, who had to be separated by teammates and coaches prior to the start of the second overtime.
Again, Wheeler built a four-point lead, 79-75, and with the Wildcats up 79-77 with :20 seconds left in the period, senior guard Avery Patterson had a chance ice the game from the line. But he missed two free throws, and Malik Chandler’s put back of Brewton’s failed three-point attempt at the buzzer send the game into its third overtime.
Brown’s three-point play after he was fouled during a strong drive to the basket, gave Wheeler a 90-83 lead with just a minute left. But Shiloh still wouldn’t go away, and Chandler’s third three pointer in overtime pulled the Generals to within two, 92-90, with just :11 seconds remaining. But after Wheeler converted one of two free throws, Chandler’s three-point attempt with :05 seconds on the clock bounced off the back of the rim.
“I’m so proud of the way we kept grinding,” Shiloh head coach Kim Rivers said. “[Wheeler] is a great team and we came up just a little short against them.”
Lipscomb was just as impressed with his team’s effort.
“I’m really proud of the way they fought, because they could have easily quit out there tonight against a really tough, good team,” he said.